Monroe County’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus has ramped up precautionary measures by the health department, but it is not a reason to go into hibernation, officials said at a Thursday morning news conference.
Confirmation for COVID-19 in an unidentified county resident was received on Wednesday morning by doctors at Highland Hospital. The man had traveled to Italy, one of the countries where the coronavirus has expanded exponentially in the past few weeks.
As a result of the local test, Monroe County commissioner of public health Michael Mendoza M.D. said “now is the time to re-look at our habits.”
Mendoza said everyone should reconsider being part of gatherings of more than 50 people, although such gatherings at this point are not prohibited, be it sporting events or religious services.
However, Saturday’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Rochester has been canceled. “The risk now exceeds the benefit,” Mendoza said. Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said she also has canceled Saturday night’s Mayor’s Ball at the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center.
Later Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned gatherings of 500 or more people. The ban begins at 5 p.m. Friday but does not apply to schools, hospitals, nursing homes and mass transit.
Mendoza stressed that it is still advisable to go about daily life, as long as general health hygiene precautions are observed: washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, coughing into a sleeve and staying home when you are ill.
“The reality here is that we want to encourage people to take reasonable precautions,” Mendoza said. “Gatherings are risky but restaurants, not necessarily — particularly if you wash your hands, cough into your sleeve. If you undertake all the precautions that we’ve been talking about, there really is no reason to be fearful of going outside, enjoying the cuisine here in Rochester and doing what as best as we possibly can what we normally do in March in Rochester.”
County Executive Adam Bello said he has met with Wegmans officials regarding the grocery giant’s supply chain, and the importance of the uninterrupted availability of food, supplies and pharmaceutical goods.
“They assured me they understand, and that are doing everything they can and they need to remain open and able to serve our community,” Bello said.
Bars and restaurants will feel an impact from no parade on Saturday. Hospitality venues such as hotels, party houses and convention centers have already been impacted from canceled conferences, awards shows and visitors.
“First and foremost, public health is the No. 1 concern — managing the risk associated with that is what the government has been doing on a daily basis,” said Vincent Esposito, Finger Lakes regional director for economic development. “Of course there is the potential for economic impact. We are assessing what those might be and looking at the types of tools that the state, and the federal government as well, can use to mitigate the impacts if they are overly negative.
“Life is still continuing and we are all bracing for different levels of disruption than maybe we have been used to, so we don’t know the full impact.”
That is also true of the impact on public health.
“We know we are at the beginning of what will be at least least weeks, if not months, worth of a change in our lifestyle,” Mendoza said, “and I think to the extent that we can begin practicing all of these good approaches, this is how we will get through this crisis.”